Is Blake Bortles the Next Alex Smith?

After the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about something that I never thought I would be thinking about halfway through this Jaguars season. Is Blake Bortles really unsalvageable? I have thought that he is for a while now.

I have said over and over again that at the very least I would have brought in competition for the starting quarterback spot here in Jacksonville since February. When the team opened up the competition for the starting job between Blake and Chad Henne heading into week three of the preseason I said, and this is a pretty close quote to what I actually said on air I’m sure, “Blake Bortles would never take another snap at quarterback if I was making the decision. Once you have opened up the competition between he and Chad you have already made your decision about whether or not he can be your quarterback.” I have said that I don’t think Blake can be the guy to lead this franchise to where they want to go.

Blake has been good the last two weeks though. Even the most ardent Bortles hater needs to be willing to admit that. If you want to question whether he will be next week or bring up the Rams, Steelers and Titans games this season…I think that’s fair, but he has been good the last two weeks. Now, two weeks isn’t nearly enough to get me to change my mind about whether Blake is the future, but it is enough for me to consider the idea that I might be wrong.

A comparison came to mind for me today and I wanted to dive deeper into it than I could on Twitter this morning where thoughts can be lost in translation.

The comparison is between Blake Bortles and Alex Smith. This morning I tweeted, “Here is how far I have come on Bortles…I’ve gone from cutting him in the preseason to being open to the idea that he may be Alex Smith…”

Allow me to further explain what I mean. Alex Smith was the number one pick in the NFL Draft to a bad 49ers team. Smith wasn’t surrounded by a lot of talent and questions about whether he could ever be a successful quarterback started being asked after a couple of years.

Now, before we get to where Alex Smith is at right now in his career let’s freeze it through the same 54 games that Blake Bortles has played. Here are a few key stats: Smith was 19-31 as a starter with a 57.1 completion percentage and a 51 to 53 touchdown to interception ratio. Bortles is 16-37 as a starter with a 58.9 completion percentage and a 79 to 56 touchdown to interception ratio.

This is when Smith’s career took a big positive turn. Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco. The 49ers built one of the best defenses in football and paired it with a strong running game led by Frank Gore. Smith proceeded to go 19-5-1 over the next two seasons as their starting quarterback throwing for 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and completing 67% of his passes. Smith was then traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he is 47-23 as a starter and has spent the majority of his time there surrounded by a solid running game and a good to great defense.

I know there were people asking if Alex Smith should even be allowed to be a starter anymore before his career took that big positive turn when he was finally surrounded by a good football team.

We are getting our first look at Blake Bortles with a good football team around him. Two games, not even eight games is enough of a sample size to know if Blake will make that same sort of turn that Smith did, but the thought is now in my head. That thought was not there two months ago. I’m open to it. That’s all I’m trying to say is that I’m open to it.

I’ve been steadfast in saying that I want Blake to prove me wrong, and I think he might could maybe possibly be doing just that. I’m not sold yet, but I was hardly even open to the idea of Blake possibly being a serviceable quarterback two months ago. Now I am at least willing to consider it.

Opportunity Is Knocking For The Jags

The Jaguars run away victory against the Houston Texans in week one has set up the team with a rare early season opportunity to put themselves in control at the top of the AFC South.

Last Sunday they knocked off the defending division champs and this Sunday they get to play their most hated rival, the Tennessee Titans, in the Jaguars home opener. The Jaguars haven’t started a season at 2-0 since 2006, but this would clearly be even bigger than just getting off to the fastest start in over a decade. It would be a 2-0 start with both wins coming against the two divisional opponents that were most often picked to win the AFC South after months of stressing how important the first two games were going to be.

The Jaguars defense got off to a near perfect start against an overmatched Houston offense. They set a franchise record with ten sacks in a game and forced four Texans turnovers after only forcing thirteen turnovers over the course of the entire season last year.

What do those kind of numbers mean historically?

I played around with the sack numbers a little bit because the Jaguars are only the second team in NFL history to open the season with a ten sack performance with a plus four turnover differential, the other being the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs who wound up at just 7-9. I expanded the criteria by dropping the sacks number to four with a plus four turnover differential and found these numbers.

Before this season a team has opened the season with five or more sacks and that turnover differential just 18 times. 10 of those 18 teams made the playoffs while winning nearly 60 percent of their games. Those teams have combined to win four playoff games and two championships (both championships were won by the Green Bay Packers, once in 1962 and the other in 1965). The last team to make the playoffs after that kind of start was the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles who finished second in the NFC East and lost a Wild Card game against the Dallas Cowboys.

After looking at the numbers as a bit of a history lesson I learned this: If you think that dominating an opponent in the season opener the way the Jaguars did the Texans is a major indicator of success I think you are just as likely to be wrong as you are to be right.

Those teams have only made the playoffs about half of the time. Six of those eighteen teams have finished with a losing record.

Here’s what I do know. The Jaguars have a major opportunity on Sunday. I haven’t had a chance to look at how those other teams divisions stacked up against this years AFC South. A division with a seemingly lousy Indianapolis Colts team, a Texans team with major questions on the offensive line and quarterback and a Titans team that could be 0-2 with a head to head loss to the 2-0 division leading Jaguars in just a few days.

5 Big Takeaways From Jaguars Win Over Houston

1. And this is by far the most important one that I will list: Enjoy this victory. I don’t know what is going to happen next week. I don’t know if the Jaguars will beat the Titans or anyone else on their schedule. I can understand some fans that want to slow play this win, but dominating last year’s division champions on the road in that kind of fashion after you have watched your team win 11 games in three years…throw reason out of the window. Celebrate. That doesn’t mean that we won’t discuss some of the bad coming out of the win over the Texans but the biggest takeaway is that you should just enjoy it.

2. How can this team replace Allen Robinson? There’s no way to talk around it, losing A Rob for the season is huge. You could see the impact as soon as he left the game yesterday. Robinson was injured on his first catch of the 2017 season yesterday and after he left the game the rest of the Jaguars wide outs combined for just four catches, with three of those going to Allen Hurns. Obvioulsy, Hurns and Marqise Lee likely become the numbers one and two targets in the Jaguars passing game. Keelan Cole had a good training camp but you could see the inexperience show up with a couple of drops. How much can they rely on Arrelious Benn? Dede Westbrook has been placed on IR so no help is coming from that direction anytime soon. It certainly feels like the team is going to be signing a wide receiver this week.

3. Welcome to Duval, Calais Campbell! How about a career best four sacks in his first game as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Really this is about that entire defensive line that racked up ten sacks yesterday and may have the Houston Texans rethinking whether or not they are willing to renegotiate with left tackle Duane Brown who is holding out for more money. Yannick Ngakoue was ridiculously good too and became just the 24th player in franchise history to collect ten sacks while wearing a Jaguars uniform. By the way, Dante Fowler was really good too. It was one of the big questions throughout the offseason. Where is the pass rush going to come from? For one week at least that question was resoundingly answered for the positive. Yann and Dante looked to have taken a step forward and the addition of Calais obviously paid huge dividends. I don’t expect ten sacks every week, but I honestly didn’t think ten sacks in a game was in this group. I now know that it is and that is a really good thing.

4. I spent the offseason also telling you that the offensive line isn’t as bad as you probably think it is, but that doesn’t mean I thought it could stonewall a defensive front as good as Houston the way that they did. Again, like the pass rush, watching that game doesn’t convince me that the problem is for sure solved, but I do think the group is better than I thought it was and that might be enough. The Jaguars ran it when they wanted to and considering that was basically the plan this offseason the first step in a game that matters is clearly a very positive one. The nature of a game ball is such that only one player can get one and if I was going to give one on the offensive line it would go to Cam Robinson. The rookie was facing as tough a test as he is likely to face all season long and he didn’t blink and instead dominated JJ Watt and company for four quarters. Maybe Nick Saban wasn’t exaggerating when he said after the Jaguars selected Cam in the draft that he was the most pro ready player that he has coached during his time at Alabama. He looked like it on Sunday.

5. Fournette is the real deal. After one carry in the preseason I was saying get him off of the field because he looked exactly how I expected him to look. We didn’t get to see him for the last three weeks of the preseason because he got stepped on and I heard some people expressing their concern about the injury heading into the regular season. After the Jags selected him I heard some people questioning whether or not he could catch the ball. I heard some people after the Jags selected him questioning whether he had any wiggle to make defenders miss. Do you still have any questions? Leonard Fournette is a different kind of running back and a different kind of athlete. I am confident that he can do anything this team is going to ask him to do. The game is not too fast and not too physical for him. I never thought for a second that it would be. It isn’t. The Jaguars have a running back that can be a difference maker.

Much more to come throughout the week, but for now please be safe if you’re anywhere that is being impacted by Irma. And remember to celebrate safely. Worry about next week from a Jags perspective next week. Today you are the team that just hammered the Houston Texans into submission and sit alone atop the AFC South standings.

Let’s Talk Toxicity

I’ve had the newest episode or Rick and Morty bouncing around in my head for a few days now. It felt like the show was begging all of its viewers to ask themselves a certain question that I’m about to ask you, but with a sports twist to it.

In case you missed this week’s episode, or just don’t like the show, or are tempted to make fun of me because I still watch new cartoons…allow me to explain quickly. Essentially the shows two main characters were put into a machine and were told it was going to pull out all of their toxins. That’s when the gloopy looking fellow you see in the above photo showed up and the show revealed that the machine wasn’t pulling out toxins like caffeine or sugar or sodium, but instead it was pulling out what each of them saw as toxic about themselves. It was about their perception of themselves. Pretty high concept for a show that you were all ready to judge me about for watching, huh?

That got me thinking about what that machine would pull out of me. What do I view as “toxic” within myself? I’m not looking to bear my soul here and I’m not looking for any of you to either, instead let’s twist it around a little bit.

In case you haven’t noticed, things haven’t been so great for the Jaguars for the last decade or so. Instead of asking what is toxic about ourselves, which is probably still a useful exercise to do on your own, let’s talk about what is toxic about the Jags.

What would you want the machine to pull out of the Jaguars? Think bigger than just players or coaches or general mangers. Think bigger than people. Is there something toxic about the Jaguars? A curse…a bad decision they are still paying for…a perception of themselves that is flawed…a improperly placed focus…anything. Maybe you don’t think there is and that’s fine too, but I thought the discussion could be interesting. Comment below.

Fournette Return Provides A Glimmer Of Hope For Struggling Jaguars Offense

Not that I ever doubted it, but it sounds like Leonard Fournette will be ready to go for September 10 against the Houston Texans. Fournette was asked if he feels like he is going to play against Houston on Monday in the locker room and responded with the confidence that I have seen him handle everything since he got here to Jacksonville by simply saying, “Yeah.”

Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone also indicated that Fournette will play Week 1 against the Texans. “As far as I’m concerned,” Marrone said after practice on Monday when asked about Fournette’s availability against Houston. “I mean I’ve got to say we’ll see, but as far as I’m concerned, yeah.”

Fournette has not played since the Jaguars week one preseason match up against the New England Patriots in which he rushed for 31 yards on 9 carries to go alongside a touchdown in his Jaguars debut. He has missed the last two preseason games and the majority of the last two weeks of practice with a “foot” injury, but is back at practice now and appears to be on track to be the feature back he was drafted to be when the team plays Houston in less than two weeks.

I, for one, am hoping that the confidence Leonard has shown since being selected fourth overall rubs off on some his teammates on the offensive side of the ball where the Jaguars have a lot more questions than answers as the clock continues to tick down to games that count. Questions about the offensive line. Questions about the quarterback.

Fournette has the skills to elevate the guys around him. He can turn two yard runs into seven or eight yards. He can turn fifteen yard runs into game breaking dashes into the end zone. I believe that. Even with the Jaguars offensive line being what it is…I still believe that. My hope is that when Fournette starts to make some of those plays that the play of the guys around him elevate because they start to believe that if they give their guy a chance he will make the play. That he won’t just get the three yards he should but the ten yards that he can.

Maybe that helps Blake. Maybe that helps Chad. Maybe that helps A-Rob and Marqise and Hurns. Maybe that helps the Jaguars actually be what they are hoping to be and will need to be more than ever with the way the quarterback position is playing right now. A team that can run the ball…with a heavy stress placed on the maybe….

But if you’re looking for some hope for the Jaguars offense I think your best bet has returned to the practice field, and it sounds like he will be ready to try and earn that Duval Destroyer nickname some have placed on him against the Texans.

Telvin is ‘Heated’

“There is still a culture here that needs to be broken before one can be created.” That’s one of several things that Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith had to say after Tuesday’s OTA.

Telvin is trying to do his part to remake the culture in Jacksonville after watching the team win just eleven games in his first three years in the league, but is frustrated with the progress that he has seen thus far. Smith felt the need to try to push that message after Tuesday’s OTA when he pulled the defense together to share where they are compared to where they should be at this point despite going through the first week plus of OTA’s without either starting safety and two of their top three corners.

When asked about what he said to his teammates Telvin deflected from talking about many details but did say, “With the players that we have I just think as a team we should be further than we are.” Telvin was also asked about where he thought the team was behind right now and he candidly responded, “Just our mentality. The mindset of this team. Things that we should be using to beat opponents are still beating us.”

Telvin will be playing the same position, weakside linebacker, this season, but the circumstances under which he will be playing it have certainly changed. He has spent three seasons knowing that he could turn and see Paul Posluszny standing out there with him at the middle linebacker spot. This year when Telvin turns to find the MIKE it will be second year linebacker Myles Jack. There is little doubt that Jack is the better athlete compared to Posluszny but there is even less doubt about how comfortable Poz’s teammates were with him patrolling the middle of the defense. Jack still has to earn that trust, and it’s not hard to project that part of the frustration that Telvin was venting today was about just that.

When Telvin was asked about the athleticism that Myles Jack can add to that spot Smith was quick to say, “I don’t want to say athleticism in the next couple week will change anything…a quote that we’ve been saying to one another is that hard work beats talent any day.” Telvin also talked about how much work Jack has been putting in saying that he is growing.

Today the clear message from Telvin was that growth, whether from Jack or the defense as a whole, isn’t coming quickly enough. This time of year is important and is even more important for a team that won just three games last season. “I understand that right now we are making the team. It’s not going to be when we go to training camp and we say ‘OK, now let’s turn it on.’ We are going to decide where this team goes and our mentality right now.”

 

 

The Big Blake Takeaway

A couple of disclaimers before I get into what Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles actually said during his media availability today. 1. We all know that what Blake has to say right now has nothing to do with how well he is going to throw the ball in September. If you’re reaction to everything Blake right now is that nothing matters, you don’t have to read any more of this…but you probably will anyway. 2. Blake has always handled this part of being a professional quarterback well. Blake is honest and has been since he got to Jacksonville. Facing the music and answering difficult questions candidly has never been an issue with Blake. He clearly gets that part of the job, but hasn’t made it any easier on himself with his on-field play.

It is not surprising that the first few minutes of Blake’s media availability today was spent talking about his time in California and the offseason work he has been doing to improve his mechanics. In the middle of that line of questioning Blake was asked if he feels closer to the way he did going into the 2015 season when he threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. Blake responded, “I would say similar to 2015, definitely nothing like last year. It’s a little different. It’s something that I feel better about and I think it just helps me be a more efficient quarterback and passer.”

News flash: Bortles thinks the plan that he and the team had for him last offseason wasn’t a good one. I’m not going to debate whether the plan was any good. The results speak for themselves, but I do want to provide a word of warning here.

This year’s plan being different from last year’s plan doesn’t mean that the 2017 plan will be a successful one. Sending Blake out to California seems like a reasonable thing to do. All of us, including Blake, know that his mechanics need to improve. Having Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone’s influence will likely be a positive thing considering that Marrone is replacing one of the worst head coaches in NFL history. There are reasons to want to feel optimistic, but those feelings have preceded some sad, stark realities for nearly the last decade in Jacksonville. This is, after all, the offseason. A time where hope abounds.

I don’t remember anyone saying a word about how bad last offseason’s plan was until the 2016 season was slammed off the rails by errant pass after errant pass by Bortles. We don’t know how good or bad the team’s offseason plan has been this year. That will be judged by how good or bad the team plays.

I like what I heard from Blake today, but I usually like what I hear from Blake. Which takes us back to point number one way up at the top of this article. Talk is cheap, even if it is honest and compelling talk.

All Eyes on Bortles as Jaguars OTA’s Get Underway

There is little doubt about who the biggest story is as the Jaguars get their OTA’s underway on Tuesday. Blake Bortles. The Jaguars have made a clear bet that Bortles will be able to, at a minimum, steer the ship through the 2017 season. What does that look like as they enter the heart of the offseason?

There will be reports and tweets and questions about Bortles during and following every practice of the offseason, and there should be. The mechanical issues in Bortles’ throwing motion have been discussed and dissected by people who understand what he is doing right and wrong much better than I can. Head coach Doug Marrone was asked about Blake’s mechanics a couple of weeks ago after the Jaguars rookie mini-camp and he said, “I think improved, there’s no doubt about it. There are certain things that I think you guys are able to go see there, as far as his elbow and his arm, it’s much improved. I think there are a lot of things we’re still working on, along with everyone else at this stage. We’re trying to build it up so when we get into the OTAs – it’s like anything else, he will, as anybody else will, benefit more if we’re throwing 100 footballs to 150; if we throw 150, he’ll be better. If we throw 200, he’ll be better. If we throw 250, he’ll be better. What we’re doing now is trying to build him up and build the arm strength and all the other things, along with all of our quarterbacks to get there. The more he throws, the better we’ll be.”

I fully expect Blake’s mechanics to look better as the OTA’s get underway. The story would be if they don’t. If that is the case then the noise regarding the way that Tom Coughlin and company have chose to approach the quarterback situation this offseason goes from a “Wait and see” whisper to a “What are they doing?” yell.

The results of his mechanics have been clear. The Jaguars haven’t been winning and Bortles has been an inaccurate thrower. He has never completed more than 58.9% of his passes in a season through the first three years of his career. Last season Bortles 58.9 completion percentage was good enough for 28th in the league, just behind Brock Osweiler at 59%. In case it isn’t clear yet, that is bad.

That, I believe, is the heart of the issue. How much more accurate a passer will Blake Bortles be in 2017 than he was in 2016? That entails much more than just his completion percentage.

A more accurate passer is a less intercepted passer. Blake has thrown 51 interceptions in 46 games. 11 of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns which is the most through a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.

A more accurate passer not only completes more passes, but completes those passes for more yards. The idea here is pretty simple. If you hit a receiver in stride they have a better opportunity to maintain their momentum and gain more yards after the catch. That is more preferable to, let’s say, forcing a receiver to stop their route and adjust to the football by contorting in mid air or punting a ball into the air off of their foot.

I expect that the stories about Blake’s “new” mechanics will be positive over the course of the next three months, but we all know the truth before we read a word of it. None of it matters until Blake shows that he can uphold those mechanics with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney stampeding towards him on September 10.

Jaguars OL Earl Watford: My First Impression

“Jacksonville is a place with amazing fans right off the top.” That was Earl Watford’s response when I asked him about what the conversation about the Jaguars was during his first four seasons in the league as an offensive lineman for the Arizona Cardinals on Jaguars Today. You can check out the full interview here, just skip ahead to the 1 hour and 9 minute mark.

Watford is a forgotten name in the Jaguars offseason plan, but has a chance to make a real impact on an offensive line that still has question marks at both guard spots. Watford was a fourth round pick of Arizona in 2013 and struggled to break into the Cardinals starting lineup until last season when he started eleven games. Eight of those starts came at right guard and three at right tackle.

There appears to be a clearer path to playing time on the Jaguars line at one of the guard spots. AJ Cann is one of the presumptive starters, but shouldn’t have anything locked down after a disappointing 2016 season, and the other guard spot is a mystery with second round pick Cam Robinson and Branden Albert being the two names most often mentioned there right now.

Brandon Linder, Cam Robinson and Branden Albert appear to be the best three lineman that the Jaguars have (as soon as Albert reports to the team) but there are big questions about where two of those names are going to play. Based on performance last season I think that Linder should be the only presumptive starter in that group while the other four positions ought to be opened up for the best man to win the job. However, we all know how “open competitions” usually go. Given the draft/free agency capital invested into them it would appear likely that Branden Albert, Cam Robinson, Brandon Linder, AJ Cann and Jermy Parnell will be the team’s starting five.

That creates an uphill battle for Watford to earn playing time, but not an impossible one. How long of a leash will AJ Cann be given in his third year? I don’t think Cann should be handed a starting job and I certainly believe he should feel the pressure to hold on to that spot, if he earns it, all season long.

 

When It Comes To Albert There’s No Need To Worry

There is no doubt, for me at least, that the most interesting tidbit to come out of Jaguars mini-camp were the comments of head coach Doug Marrone regarding his lack of communication with presumptive left tackle Branden Albert. It is rare for a coach to answer a question that honestly about something that there really isn’t any need to answer at all. Especially when you consider how little information there is to share.

The Jaguars traded for Branden Albert. Branden Albert said he expects his contract to be reworked. The Jaguars have made it their very public stance that they won’t rework that contract. Neither side has been in communication with the other, outside of the shots fired by the Jaguars representatives towards Albert.

Marrone hasn’t spoken with Albert. He didn’t have to say that. He could have said, “I’m only going to talk about the players that are here.” We have all seen coaches and executives handle these kinds of situations that way before, but he didn’t. Instead, Marrone answered in a very blunt, honest fashion. He said he hasn’t talked to him. He said that it makes him more frustrated than angry. Frustrated that he just doesn’t know what Albert is thinking and can’t give Tom Coughlin or Dave Caldwell any more information than that, and the he can’t speak FOR Albert because he simply hasn’t spoke TO Albert.

I am surprised that Albert hasn’t been in communication with the team, but I really don’t care that he isn’t here for the voluntary portion of the offseason. Albert has been around the league long enough (going into his 10th season) and has played the game at a high enough level (2 Pro Bowl selections with his last coming in 2015) to know how to get himself ready for the season. You can check out Albert’s Instagram page here to see him working out in his spare time right now. If he doesn’t show up on June 13th for the first mandatory portion of the offseason the conversation will drastically change, but for now it is a bit of a non story.

Albert is almost certainly one of the Jaguars five best offensive lineman when he gets here and is therefore a likely starter whenever that times comes. The building of chemistry during this time of year is blown out of proportion, in my opinion, especially considering how little and what kind of work players can actually do on field with coaches.

The discussion about a possible battle for the left tackle spot between Cam Robinson and Branden Albert is something I will entertain more when Albert reports to the team which I fully expect to be when the mandatory portion of the offseason begins. After all, there aren’t any other places where Albert is going to get paid nine million dollars this year. I think that, ultimately, will get Albert eager to put on a Jaguars uniform.